Many African items were brought to England by trade or by those worked within the British Empire. This is why the collections tend to come from the west, central, east and southern Africa. Items acquired during the 19th century were collected during the period of colonialism. They were obtained when Empire brought great change to traditional government and established trading societies.
It is important for us to better understand who collected these early souvenirs, but also why these objects are significant as symbols of commerce and culture.
In first phase of the project the Museum invited a number of museum and university-based scholars to explore the collections. This meant that certain collection elements would receive fresh interpretation due to the latest scholarship. Objects whose stories were once unknown could now be told as part of a public display.
Researchers include Dr. Zachary Kingdon, National Museums Liverpool; Professor John Mack and Dr. Fiona Savage, Sainsbury Research Unit, Julie Hudson, the British Museum and Professor Tim Insoll, University of Exeter.
What happens to the research?
The information provided by scholars (and source communities where possible) enhances the information the museum currently holds. Believe it or not, trying to locate fresh interpretation for museum objects is not easy. We sometimes find that object knowledge remains incomplete. Sadly some ‘voices’ are lost in time and space. Also, trying to find relevant collection specialists can also be difficult as they may not be in the UK.
Research data with any extra information is placed onto the collections database. From here it is conveyed to the public through related gallery and digital displays. This is to ensure that scholarship is widely shared and that our audiences benefit from having access to it.